Obama promised change in Cuba and he certainly delivered. Over the last two and a half years since instituting his policy of unilateral surrender to the apartheid Castro dictatorship, things have indeed changed; for the worse.
Cuba is changing little — and for the worse
The world is changing much faster and the island keeps on falling further behind
Many people hoped that the liberalising reforms that the Raúl Castro administration introduced in Cuba would help the country transition from its state-centred economy to a market-friendly one where individual entrepreneurship could foster economic development. Unfortunately, the few reforms implemented in the nine years Raúl Castro has been in power have fostered the development of the worst form of crony capitalism, a situation in which a powerful state — rather than fostering market competition — hands out favours to foreign private companies that come to the island attracted by the special access they enjoy.
When Fidel Castro retired from the presidency in Cuba in 2008, the new government began to announce a series of liberalising reforms to allow for private-sector participation in economic activity. Some measures allowed Cuban citizens to set up their own small businesses while other initiatives sought to attract foreign investment to develop the tourism industry and invest in other productive sectors. Today, many construction cranes can be seen in Havana. New hotels have been built and the old town is being rapidly renovated. Fancy stores that cater to wealthy tourists are the new attraction in town. Small shops and restaurants are easy to find and reflect the strong entrepreneurial spirit of many Cubans.
Yet, the state has retained its overwhelming control of the national economy. In the tourism industry, the country is far from developing a customer-oriented mentality. The bureaucratic attitude of public-sector workers and most government-hired workers in privately owned companies makes it difficult for tourists who visit the country to relax and enjoy themselves. Long waiting-lines at the airport to collect bags or to exchange foreign currency into CUC (Dollar-Denominated Currency for foreigners) can only be shortened if you give a couple of bucks to a taxi-driver that takes you to a tourism agency office to exchange dollars (though you still pay an additional 13-percent tax if you bring dollars rather than Euros).
It is true that Havana is a safe city and people are very friendly, but not having Internet access in the streets in 2017 — and having slow and unreliable Internet access in hotels — does not go well with the social-network-intensive modern vacationer. In Havana, life is still in the pre-Internet era. You can’t find your way around using Google Maps or check the reviews on the next restaurant you think of visiting. Granted, unrestricted online access 24/7 is a recent phenomenon, but without being on a par with international standards, Cuba will not be able to expand its tourism base to less sophisticated travellers. Though it is undeniable that Cuba has changed, the world has changed much faster and, thus, the island keeps on falling further behind.
Time is not money
The Cuban government has embraced capitalism, but in its worst form. Rather than promoting competition, the government has sought to team up with the private sector to provide services or to regulate the provision of services. For example, since booking for hotels must be done through a state-owned travel agency, there is little competition between hotels to attract tourists. As there is no culture of customer satisfaction, tourists must rely on the good intentions of Cubans in order to expect good service. To attract foreign investment, the government has signed deals with private companies that will undermine competition and unlevel the playing-field for other companies that might want to consider entering the country in the future.
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